Kasper­sky in fo­cus as US-Rus­sia cy­ber-ten­sions rise

Sun.Star Pampanga - - TECH! -

Washington, United States -- The se­cu­rity soft ware firm Kasper­sky has be­come the fo­cal point in an es­ca­lat­ing con­flict in cy­berspace be­tween the United States and Rus­sia.

The Rus­sian-based com­pany has been ac­cused of be­ing a ve­hi­cle for hack­ers to steal se­cu­rity se­crets from the US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, and was banned by all Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment agen­cies last month.

But it re­mains un­clear if Kasper­sky was part of a scheme or an un­will­ing ac­com­plice in an es­pi­onage ef­fort.

The soft­ware firm has ar­gued it has no ties to any gov­ern­ment and said in a re­cent state­ment it is sim­ply "caught in the mid­dle of a geopo­lit­i­cal fight."

But the lat­est ac­cu­sa­tions high­light what some see as a sim­mer­ing cy­ber­war be­tween the two pow­ers.

"Cur­rently, we're los­ing," said James Lewis, a fel­low with the Washington-based Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

"It's not the kind of con­flict we're used to."

The Kasper­sky al­le­ga­tions come in the wake of an ap­par­ent Rus­sian­led ef­fort to ma­nip­u­late so­cial me­dia and in­flu­ence the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Rus­sia has an ad­van­tage be­cause "they have fig­ured out how to use our civil lib­er­ties against us and there's not much we can do about it," Lewis said.

"We don't have a group that does this kind of psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare and we don't have the le­gal au­thor­ity to de­fend against it."

Peter Singer, a New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion strate­gist and au­thor who has writ­ten on 21st cen­tury war­fare, agreed that Rus­sia is gain­ing ground in this cy­ber con­flict. "If it's a 'cy­ber­war,' it is a akin to a Cold Warstyle back-and-forth of ev­ery­thing from steal­ing se­crets to po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions," Singer sai d.

"Given that the Rus­sians have so far got away with no real con­se­quences for the big­gest, most im­pact­ful op­er­a­tion, the hacks and in­flu­ence cam­paign tar­get­ing the 2016 US elec­tion, I'd say they are do­ing pretty well."

- Cat-and-mouse game But

Gabriel Weimann, a pro­fes­sor at Is­rael's Univer­sity of Haifa and au­thor who has writ­ten on cy­ber­se­cu­rity, said it may be pre­ma­ture to de­clare Rus­sia the win­ner.

"We don't re­ally know the achieve­ments of NSA in mon­i­tor­ing the web, this kind of in­for­ma­tion is se­cret," Weimann said.

"This is a cat-and­mouse game. You re­spond to break­ing in and the other side re­sponds and it be­comes more dan­ger­ous and more sophi st i cat ed."

On Tues­day, the New York Times re­ported that Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence had hacked into the Kasper­sky net­work and upon de­tect­ing the Rus­sian in­tru­sion, alerted the United States, which led to a de­ci­sion last month for Kasper­sky soft­ware to be re­moved from US gov­ern­ment com­put­ers.

The on­line news site Cy­berS­coop, cit­ing anony­mous sources, re­ported sep­a­rately this week that Kasper­sky as early as 2015 sought to pro­mote its anti-virus soft­ware as a tool to track ex­trem­ists in the Mid­dle East.

The re­port said that some US of­fi­cials were in­trigued by the of­fer, but that tech­ni­cal mem­bers of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity in­ter­preted this as mean­ing that Kasper­sky's anti-virus soft­ware could be used as a spy­ing tool.

Cy­berS­coop said that Rus­sian of­fi­cials from the FSB, the suc­ces­sor to the KGB, told US of­fi­cials in 2015 not to in­ter­fere with Kasper­sky soft­ware, a mes­sage that set off alarm bells.

The Wall Street Jour­nal mean­while re­ported that the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment was able to mod­ify Kasper­sky soft­ware to turn it into an es­pi­onage tool.

Anti-virus soft­ware such as those cre­ated by Kasper­sky can be­come a tool for es­pi­onage be­cause it scans and can ac­cess all files in a com­puter or net­work.

Eu­gene Kasper­sky, founder of the com­pany which bears his name, has long de­nied any con­nec­tion to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment but said on Twit­ter Mon­day he was launch­ing an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the lat­est al­le­ga­tions. A com­pany state­ment this week said, "Kasper­sky Lab has never helped, nor will help, for any gov­ern­ment in the world with its cy­beres­pi­onage ef­forts, and con­trary to er­ro­neous re­ports, Kasper­sky Lab soft­ware does not con­tain any un­de­clared ca­pa­bil­i­ties such as back­doors as that would be il­le­gal and un­eth­i­cal."

Weimann said he be­lieves Kasper­sky was likely "pig­gy­backed" by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment for es­pi­onage rather than a will­ing par­tic­i­pant.

Lewis agreed, say­ing Kasper­sky is prob­a­bly "an un­will­ing tool" in the Rus­sian es­pi­onage ef­fort.

Lewis said that Eu­gene Kasper­sky "would love to be (part of) a pri­vate com­pany head­quar­tered in Lon­don but the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment won't let him."

( AFP)

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